Friday, April 27, 2012

Mrs. Doubtfire (or the Unexpected Legacy of Divorce)

As a young boy, it was not unusual for me to cry during movies. And no other movie made me cry more than Mrs. Doubtfire. The movie, starring Robin Williams, was a story all too familiar to me about divorce and the longing of a child for his or her parents to be back together again. I've been thinking about Mrs. Doubtfire a lot lately. That's because, 22 years later, I still struggle to make sense of my parents' own divorce.
Whenever I am asked about my childhood, I invariably start out by mentioning that my parents got divorced when I was three years old. Only after that do I go on to mention my lifelong dream of becoming a professional wrestler or a Ninja Turtle. I never thought anything about this until I read about how children from intact homes describe their adolescence in The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. Generally, their childhood isn't defined by a failed dream. It focuses on the positive social relationships that they had with their friends. While I have memories of playing outside with friends, I have stronger memories of the absence of a family and longing for a happy mom and a present dad.

There are a lot of negative emotions that are involved in divorce. Those of the parents, of course. However, I have come to discover that a lot of my feelings about life and relationships have been branded by divorce as well. Guilt, anxiety, fear, and depression are daily intruders in my life. Nothing scares me more than losing my wife to a sudden loss of her attraction to me. Thankfully, she does a wonderful job of reassuring me that such a fear is unreasonable and that she will always be around. Still, I can't help but compare my idea of marriage as a result of my personal experience with it to hers as a child of a loving, intact family.

When your only model of a successful husband-wife relationship fails to correctly model for you, you are forced to create your own moral code instead. As a 25 year old husband and father, I work relentlessly on this every day. Still, while I am forging a relationship of my own without a template to work from, I am also trying to fill in the gaps to better understand who I have become and how I view the world as a child of divorce.

Movies about divorce, such as Mrs. Doubtfire, dominated the big screen landscape as I grew up. And I cried because they hit home for me. I related to them, and I tried to find solutions for me from them. The unexpected legacy of divorce will always be a part of my life. However, because it is, I am able to say that it won't be for my daughter.

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